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From Hollywood to Bollywood?

Recasting Australias Indo/Pacific strategic geography

Andrew Phillips
October 2016

Andrew Phillips
Andrew Phillips (PhD, Cornell) is an Associate Professor in International Relations and Strategy
in the School of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Queensland.
His research focuses on the global state systems evolution from 1500 to the present, and
on contemporary security challenges in East and South Asia, with a particular focus on
Great Power rivalry and counter-terrorism. He is the author of War, Religion and Empire: The
Transformation of International Orders (Cambridge University Press) and (with J.C. Sharman)
International Order in Diversity: War, Trade and Rule in the Indian Ocean (Cambridge University
Press). He has articles published or forthcoming in European Journal of International Relations,
International Studies Review, International Studies Quarterly, Millennium, Review of International
Studies, Pacific Review, Survival, Australian Journal of International Affairs, National Identities,
and Security Challenges. Prior to his academic career, Andrew worked for the Federal
Government in the Department of Prime Minister andCabinet.

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is governed by a Council with broad membership. ASPIs core values are collegiality,
originality & innovation, quality & excellence and independence.
ASPIs publicationsincluding this paperare not intended in any way to express or
reflect the views of the Australian Government. The opinions and recommendations
in this paper are published by ASPI to promote public debate and understanding of
strategic and defence issues. Theyreflect the personal views of the author(s) and
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From Hollywood to Bollywood?

Recasting Australias Indo/Pacific strategic geography

Andrew Phillips
October 2016

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute Limited 2016

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First published October 2016
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Creator: Phillips, Andrew, 1977- author.

Title: From Hollywood to Bollywood? : recasting Australias Indo/Pacific strategic
geography / Andrew Phillips.
ISBN: 9781925229240 (paperback)
Series: Strategy (Australian Strategic Policy Institute)
Subjects: Security, International.
Australia--Strategic aspects.
Indo-Pacific Region--Strategic aspects.
Other Creators/Contributors:
Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
Dewey Number: 355.0330994




Strategic geographywhat it is and why it matters for Australia

The case for an Indo-Pacific revolution in Australias strategic geography


An Indo/Pacific alternative for Australias strategic geography


The Indo-Pacific spectrum: assessing Australias strategic options


Indo/Pacific hedginga triple-track grand strategy for Australia




From Hollywood to Bollywood? Recasting Australias Indo/Pacific strategic geography

SOUTH CHINA SEA (24 June 2014) The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd (DDG 100) on patrol in the 7th Fleet area of
operations supporting security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. US Navy photo Flickr 140624-N-ZS026-006.


Australias strategic geography is being revolutionised. China and Indias rising maritime power, coupled with a
Eurasia-wide connectivity revolution, is drawing together two formerly disparate theatres: the AsiaPacific and
the Indian Ocean region. Moreover, Indo-Pacific language now pervades official characterisations of Australias
strategic geography. But is the Indo-Pacific a reliable characterisation of Australias neighbourhood? What might a
genuinely Indo-Pacific strategy of regional order-building look like? And what are the alternatives to an Indo-Pacific
grand strategy for Australia?
This report argues against the Indo-Pacific idea and presents the case for a more regionally differentiated Indo/
Pacific alternative. The Indo-Pacific idea is a crucial intervention in Australian foreign and defence policy debates
and captures fundamental megatrends now reshaping our region. Nevertheless, it also overstates the magnitude,
speed and scope of integration between the AsiaPacific and the Indian Ocean region and offers a bold but
ultimately flawed regional template for Australian foreign and defence policymakers. Specifically, the hyphen at the
heart of the Indo-Pacific aggregates two distinct regional security orders that have differed widely in their historical
evolution and that today present different challenges and regional order-building opportunities for Australia.
By contrast, an Indo/Pacific strategic geography explicitly differentiates the AsiaPacific from the Indian Ocean
region and calibrates Australias strategies for regional engagement accordingly.
In the AsiaPacific, Australia participates in a security order marked by an entrenched and heavily institutionalised
US presence and by a well-established multilateral architecture for facilitating economic and security cooperation.
Chinas rise and increasing assertiveness, meanwhile, present a powerful and immediate challenge to the current
order and a clear focal point for collaboration between like-minded states seeking to preserve that order.
Conversely, the USs order-building role in the Indian Ocean region has historically been shallower, less ambitious
and less institutionalised. Moreover, the regions historic role as the cradle of the Non-Aligned Movement has
inhibited alliance-based forms of security cooperation, while Indian Ocean states record of multilateral cooperation
remains modest at best.
The AsiaPacific and the Indian Ocean region thus present increasingly interconnectedbut still durably distinct
security orders. For this reason, Australia should pursue a regionally differentiated triple track strategy of
Within the AsiaPacific, this would primarily focus on helping to refurbish the San Francisco alliance system to deter
armed revisionist attempts to challenge the current rules-based order.
In the Indian Ocean, it would entail developing bottom up forms of bilateral and minilateral security cooperation to
incrementally cultivate Asias collective capacity to manage traditional and non-traditional challenges.
Finally, as a longer term project, Australia should work with like-minded states to develop an Indo-Pacific
Security Dialogue. This platform would be sufficiently inclusive and expansive to facilitate cross-regional security
dialogue and cooperation. It would ideally further supplement existing efforts (in the AsiaPacific and the Indian
Ocean region) to forge an international order thats strong enough to resist armed challenge, supple enough to
accommodate the legitimate demands of rising powers, and sustainable enough to manage the inevitable long-term
transformation in Asias security order that will follow Americas long-term hegemonic decline.


Australias strategic geography is being revolutionised. Historically, Australians have conceptualised our strategic
geography as one firmly fixated on the AsiaPacific. Concerned from Federation onwards with the threat of invasion
from the north, and oriented to the AsiaPacific more recently by the vast commercial opportunities offered by East
Asias economic ascendancy, Canberra has traditionally devoted much less attention to the Indian Ocean region. But
the past decade has seen a supersizing of Australias strategic geography. Wary of the destabilising consequences
of Chinas rise and alive to Indias burgeoning military and economic potential, commentators and influential
policy practitioners are increasingly urging Australia to adopt an Indo-Pacific rather than an AsiaPacific strategic
orientation (for example, Medcalf 2014, Varghese 2015).
Not merely a semantic change, this pivot would amount to a transformation in the way Australia looks at the world
and implies correspondingly radical adjustments in our defence and foreign policy. Though the Indo-Pacific idea is
of recent origin, it has already percolated into Canberras policy vernacular, featuring in successive Defence White
Papers (Defence Department 2013, 2016), as well as in ministerial speeches (for example, Bishop 2016, Payne 2016).
The popularity of the Indo-Pacific idea testifies to its utility in capturing important megatrends transforming
our region. But what would a genuinely Indo-Pacific Australian grand strategy look like? Would an Indo-Pacific
reorientation really be preferable to our continued self-definition as an AsiaPacific power? And, if so, how might
we reconcile an Indo-Pacific supersizing of our geography with a long-term decline in our relative strategic weight?
In a bigger neighbourhood, how might a relatively smaller Australia best marshal its finite power to advance the
national interest?
This report aims to refine rather than completely rebut the Indo-Pacific idea, to help clarify the contours of debate
on what an Australian Indo-Pacific grand strategy should be. The Indo-Pacific concept is an important development
in Australias defence and foreign policy conversation. It enables us to think more systematically about how we
might integrate non-traditional partners (notably India and Indonesia) into our regional order-building strategies.
And it foregrounds the growing connectivity between Asias different subregions: from the manufacturing
powerhouses of Northeast Asia to the energy superpowers of the Persian Gulf and the increasingly contested sea
lines of communication (SLOCs) linking the two (Khanna 2016, Wesley 2015).
Notwithstanding these strengths, an uncritical embrace of the Indo-Pacific idea remains problematic. This is
because the hyphenation at the heart of the Indo-Pacific overstates the degree of integration between the Indian
Ocean and Pacific theatres. With the exception of the maritime energy superhighway linking the two regions via
the Strait of Malacca (Prakash 2013:276), the East Asian and Indian Ocean halves of the presumed Indo-Pacific
super-region remain durably distinct regional security orders.


The East Asian security order remains defined by an American presence thats both historically longstanding
and comprehensively institutionalised. Centred on Americas anchor state partnership with Japan (Katzenstein
2005:73), Americas power and presence in East Asia are manifest in its hub and spokes alliance system,
forward-based military presence and provision of extended nuclear assurance to its regional partners (Lyon
2013). Alongside this entrenched US presence, the AsiaPacific region is also characterised by an increasingly
sophisticated multilateral governance architecture in both the economic and the security domains (Goh 2013).
By contrast, Americas presence in the Indian Ocean region is historically shallower and is today both less intrusive
and less institutionalised. America lacks a regional anchor-state of equivalent strategic weight to Japan in the Indian
Ocean. In contrast to its extensive provision of hegemonic services (Ikenberry 2016:3) in East Asia, Washington
has confined itself in the Indian Ocean to the missions of securing the developed worlds access to Persian Gulf
oil reserves while assuring maritime freedom of navigation. The regions historic role as the epicentre of the
Non-Aligned Movement has meanwhile precluded the development of a counterpart to Americas hub-and-spokes
East Asian alliance system. Moreover, the Indian Ocean regions anaemic multilateral architecture reflects and
reinforces the lack of a region-wide tradition of meaningful security and economic cooperation.

The stark differences between East Asia and the Indian Ocean
region fundamentally shape Australias opportunities to advance its
interests in those environments.
The stark differences between East Asia and the Indian Ocean region fundamentally shape Australias opportunities
to advance its interests in those environments. Accordingly, efforts to foster a holistic Indo-Pacific grand strategy
that downplays these differences are likely to fail. I propose as an alternative an Indo/Pacific strategy, which
acknowledges these differences and reflects them in a differentiated strategy of regional engagement. In East
Asia, this strategy concentrates on minimising the instability occasioned by Chinas rise through an expanded
consolidation of Australias strategic partnership with the US and its core regional allies. In the Indian Ocean, by
contrast, the absence of an alliance system precludes a direct translation of Australias established strategies for
regional engagement into this new context. The greater prominence of non-traditional security threats in the Indian
Ocean places a premium on fostering bilateral and minilateral customised partnerships with local powers. Beyond
their functional value, building those partnerships could also help build habits of cooperation between Australia
and local powers, thereby promoting a bottom up regionalism (Tow & Taylor 2010:112) over the longer term.
The remainder of this report is set out as follows:
Chapter 2 defines the concept of strategic geography and explains why its so important for Australia to develop
a strategic geography properly scaled to our circumstances, interests and capabilities.
Chapter 3 presents the case for an Indo-Pacific reimagining of Australias strategic geography.
Chapter 4 critiques the Indo-Pacific idea by foregrounding the distinctiveness of East Asia and the Indian Ocean
region as discrete security orders, rather than two halves of an increasingly unified Indo-Pacific theatre.
Chapter 5 critically surveys four alternative regional grand strategies for Australia: AsiaPacific first,
balance-of-power Indo-Pacific minimalism, a maximalist Indo-Pacific concert of powers, and an Indo-Pacific
functionalism grounded in joint management of the regions Indo-Pacific SLOCs.
Chapter 6 presents an alternative grand strategyIndo/Pacific hedgingas constituting the best means by
which Australia can effectively reconcile our finite capabilities with our expanding strategic neighbourhood.



Strategic geographywhat it is and why it matters for Australia

Strategic geography refers to the core spatial assumptions underpinning a states grand strategy. A countrys
strategic geography delineates the geographical remit of its security ambitions and identifies those parts of the
world that are (and are not) of most relevance to its security outlook (Dibb 2006, Gray 1999).
Strategic geographies are the key to identifying a states core interests, ambitions and vulnerabilities as they relate
to the physical environment. But, while a countrys strategic geography is conditioned by its physical geography,
it isnt dictated by it. Instead, strategic geographies are interpretive schemas that policy entrepreneurs develop
to make better sense of the world and their countrys place in it. Precisely because they are conceived by policy
entrepreneurs, they are changeable and often fiercely contested. This changeability is most pronounced during
periods of rapid power transition. Then, the rise of new powers, disruptive new technologies or some combination
of the two makes old strategic geographies redundant, compelling strategists to formulate alternatives that better
fit emerging realities.
Strategic geography serves three key purposes for policymakers (Bisley & Phillips 2013:98). In distilling the spatial
assumptions of a states grand strategy, it allows governments to more readily identify and clarify the purposes
informing their foreign policies and to prioritise their commitments accordingly. For example, an Indo-Pacific
strategic geography suggests a need to more equally weight Australias engagement with the Indian Ocean and
Pacific theatres than does an exclusively AsiaPacific alternative. Strategic geographies also provide a common
language for policymakers and thus a shared intellectual horizon within which defence and foreign policy can be
formulated and coordinated. Finally, strategic geography provides a shorthand to communicate to allies, neutrals
and adversaries the geographical remit of a countrys interests and current or prospective commitments.
Good strategic geography matters because it can reframe a states security and economic interests in ways that best
align with its interests, capabilities and vulnerabilities. Two historical examples illustrate this observation.
Following World War II, the US for the first time embraced a North Atlantic strategic orientation, which it later
institutionalised in 1949 with the founding of NATO (Hemmer & Katzenstein 2002). With NATOs establishment,
Washington entrenched a commitment to serve as Western Europes security guarantor. The rise of the Soviet
Union as a would-be hegemon in Eurasia, combined with the invention of ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons,
had demanded an end to American isolationism. Correspondingly, American strategic geographers (for example,
Herz 1957, Spykman 1942) worked hard to reorient the US from an exclusive focus on the Americas towards a more
expansive globalist posture. This paved the way for a North Atlantic commitment that proved central to Americas
successful prosecution of the Cold War.
By contrast, the rise of the New Order in Indonesia saw a significant downsizing of Indonesias strategic geography.
From at least the 1955 AsianAfrican Bandung conference onwards, President Sukarno conceived Indonesias
strategic geography in globalist terms in the binary struggle between neocolonial old established forces and the

Strategic geographywhat it is and why it matters for Australia

new emerging forces of the newly independent Afro-Asian world (Sukma 1995:310). This worldview propelled
Jakarta into disastrous foreign policy forays such as the Konfrontasi against Malaysia, which helped pave the way for
Sukarnos ouster in September 1965. By contrast, the Suharto regime adopted a far narrower strategic geography,
prioritising Southeast Asian reconciliation over global anticolonial revolution (Sukma 1995:311). The result was a
grand strategy focused on building national and regional resilience (Emmers 2009:161162), which helped cultivate
the more stable regional environment necessary to foster Indonesias economic development throughout the New
Order period.
These examples show how crucial it is for states to properly calibrate their strategic geography with their core
interests, capabilities and vulnerabilities. This lesson is especially relevant for Australia now, when policy
entrepreneurs are trying to entrench the Indo-Pacific as Australias new strategic geography.

The last time Australia transformed its strategic geography was

in the 1970s, when we embraced an AsiaPacific conception of
our region.
The last time Australia transformed its strategic geography was in the 1970s, when we embraced an AsiaPacific
conception of our region. The British announcement in 1968 of the UKs pending liquidation of all military
commitments east of Suez, followed in 1969 by Nixons articulation of the Guam doctrine insisting on greater allied
self-reliance, prompted Australians to reach for a more independent grand strategy less exclusively dependent
on great-power patrons. Simultaneously, East Asias (particularly Japans) growing commercial importance for
Australia dramatised our accelerating dependence on Asian markets as our primary source of prosperity. Anxious
to keep America involved in the region following its retreat from Vietnam, and determined to preserve access to
Asian markets, Australian policy entrepreneurs from the late 1970s fostered an AsiaPacific definition of the region
(Katzenstein 2005:80).
Australias redefinition as an AsiaPacific power yielded major dividends. Conceptually, it laid the basis for a
dual track grand strategy (Tow 2008:30) predicated on continued maintenance of ANZUS as the cornerstone of
our defence policy, alongside a commitment to promoting open multilateralism as the foundation for regional
cooperation. Moreover, an AsiaPacific strategic geography naturalised Americas continued presence as East
Asias security guarantor. This helped to secure local powers continued acceptance of American hegemony in
the aftermath of major power shifts, including the post-Vietnam withdrawal and the end of the Cold War period.
Critically, it also provided a common language for Australia to harness in conjunction with like-minded states when
promoting open regionalism over more exclusively East Asian alternatives (Katzenstein 2005:80).
Australia was far from alone in advocating an AsiaPacific strategic geography. Indeed, the concepts success
depended on its attractiveness to major regional powers, notably the US and Japan. The point nevertheless stands
that the AsiaPacific turn marked a major innovation in Australian strategic thinking, which was key in enabling us to
reconfigure our grand strategy to accommodate East Asias economic ascendancy.
Is the Indo-Pacific turn a comparable transformation in Australian strategic thinking? The Indo-Pacific concept
represents a further broadening of our strategic horizons. This is a potentially daunting prospect, given our small
population, limited power projection capabilities, and inevitable long-term decline in power and influence relative
to our large and rapidly developing neighbours. More fundamentally, what would a renovation of Australias
grand strategy on Indo-Pacific lines look like? The next chapter delineates the key changes in our region that
have prompted the Indo-Pacific turn, preparatory to a more critical engagement with the Indo-Pacific concept in



The case for an Indo-Pacific revolution in Australias strategic

Advocates of an Australian embrace of an Indo-Pacific strategic geography base their case on three key
transformative trends currently reshaping Asia: the power shift towards Asias rising giants, especially China and
India; Asian great powers growing commercial and military extraversion, evident most particularly in the maritime
domain; and an ongoing connectivity revolution in infrastructure thats rapidly integrating both continental Eurasia
and the maritime Indo-Pacific.
The proposed shift to an Indo-Pacific framework rests first on a recognition of the rapidly growing strategic heft of
the regions emerging Asian great powers, most notably China and India. From 1978 and 1991, respectively, China
and India reversed their earlier commitments to autarky in favour of selective market liberalisation and greater
engagement with the global economy. These shifts have yielded a dramatic increase in both countries GDPs and a
commensurate growth in their economic and military capabilities. From a position of relative insignificance in the
late 1970s, China now possesses the worlds second largest economy measured by nominal GDP, and the largest if
measured by purchasing power parity (World Bank 2014a, 2014b). Indias growth trajectory, while more recent and
less spectacular, has likewise catapulted it from a comparable position of marginality to a ranking as the worlds
ninth largest economy measured by nominal GDP, and third largest if measured by purchasing power parity (World
Bank 2014a, 2014b).
The rapid growth of Asias rising giants is now restoring the nexus between population and economic and military
powerone that the Wests early industrial revolution only temporarily decoupled in the 19th and 20th centuries
(Buzan & Lawson 2015, Wesley 2015, White 2010:11). Corresponding with this rapid growth, Asias emerging powers
are now also becoming far more outward-looking. Having consolidated its position at the centre of regional
production networks, China has emerged as the worlds top partner in merchandise trade (Thirlwell 2015), eclipsing
the US as the first-ranking merchandise trading partner for the largest number of countries (Holodny 2015). Chinas
hunger for resources to fuel its industrialisation has also consolidated its trade and investment links with countries
further afield, most notably Australia, the Persian Gulf energy producers and East Africa.
While less central to global production and trading networks, India has likewise expanded its commercial reach
dramatically in the past two decades. Lacking the resource endowments necessary to fuel its rise, India has
followed Chinas example in consolidating its trade and investment ties with major resource producers. The Modi
governments Make in India campaign aims to kickstart Indias emergence as a manufacturing superpower.
Central to this initiative is growing IndiaJapan economic cooperation, including Tokyos provision of extensive
infrastructure investments aimed at hastening Indias rise as a counterweight to Chinese power (Rajendrum

The case for an Indo-Pacific revolution in Australias strategic geography

In contrast to an earlier era of stagnation and introspection, Asias two demographic giants are now more
economically dynamic and outward-looking than they have been at any time in the past two centuries. Crucially,
this new extraversion hasnt been confined to the commercial realm. On the contrary, a more outward-looking
economic orientation has prompted both China and India to redefine their security interests more expansively
especially in the maritime domain. Chinas growing assertiveness throughout its immediate maritime periphery
(the East and South China seas) is the leading-edge indicator of this new extraversion. But Chinas growing naval
activities in the Indian Ocean show that its strategic horizons increasingly extend well beyond the East Asian littoral.
Motivated at least in part by its concerns over the Malacca dilemmathe risk of adversaries interdicting Chinas
commercial shipping in the Strait of Malacca in the event of armed conflictthe ChineseNavy has begun to dedicate
more time and resources to far sea defence planning (Ramadhani 2015). This has manifested itself in Chinese
participation in multinational anti-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa, but also in efforts to develop commercial
ports and associated infrastructure throughout the Indian Ocean littoral, much to Indias consternation (Brewster

New Delhi has quietly exploited regional anxiety over Chinas

assertiveness in the South China Sea to develop local security
partnerships aimed at containing Chinese ambitions.
Indias naval involvement in East Asian waters has been more limited. New Delhi has of course quietly exploited
regional anxiety over Chinas assertiveness in the South China Sea to develop local security partnerships aimed at
containing Chinese ambitions. But it has nevertheless scrupulously avoided direct involvement in the South China
Sea dispute (Rajendrum 2014:5) for fear of overtly antagonising China. That caveat aside, under Prime Minister
Modis Act East policy, New Delhi has assiduously pursued strategic partnerships with East Asian powers to
offset growing Chinese power. Initiatives have included its partnership with Japan, which extends beyond trade
and infrastructure assistance to encompass substantial and growing defence cooperation as well (Rajendrum
2014:78). Likewise, India has forged strategic partnerships with Vietnam, Australia and ASEAN. The first two of
those partnerships promise to strengthen defence cooperation between the parties, lending further credence to
characterisations of the Indo-Pacific as an increasingly integrated strategic space (Rajendrum 2014:1012). Indias
strengthening of its Eastern Naval Command (and particularly the build-up on the Andaman and Nicobar island
chain close to the Strait of Malacca) meanwhile testifies to New Delhis determination to respond vigorously to
growing Chinese involvement in the Indian Ocean region (Miglani 2015).
As China and India have grown more enmeshed with the global economy, and as their economies have rapidly
developed, their overseas commercial interests have correspondingly expanded. More expansive commercial
interestswhich depend on a stable maritime security orderhave enlarged both states strategic horizons. This
has in turn prompted increased Chinese and Indian naval activity in each others maritime peripheries and increased
efforts to cultivate defence partnerships with local powers to supplement that activity.
Beyond these drivers towards increased strategic integration, a vast pan-Asian expansion of infrastructure
networksan ongoing connectivity revolution (Khanna 2016:11)provides a final warrant for adopting
Indo-Pacific as Australias preferred strategic geography. Aware of the vulnerability of its commerce to maritime
interdiction, China has established the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Silk Road Fund to assist in
the mammoth task of upgrading Asias physical infrastructure. To date, the centrepiece of this ambitious program
has been the One Belt, One Road initiative. This program calls for Eurasias integration by land through a major
expansion of its roads and railway networks, alongside the development of a maritime Silk Road of ports and
associated infrastructure (Fukuyama 2016). Not coincidentally, Chinese plans for a maritime Silk Road dovetail
neatly with Indonesias efforts to position itself as the fulcrum of a global maritime axis (Shekhar & Liow 2014)
linking the Indian and Pacific oceans. Should these visions of expanded intercontinental connectivity come to




From Hollywood to Bollywood? Recasting Australias Indo/Pacific strategic geography

fruition, theyll do much to confirm the case for embracing an integrated Indo-Pacific conception of the regions
strategic geography.
Chinas and Indias economic resurgence and growing commercial and military extraversion, combined with current
and expected increases in pan-regional connectivity flowing from large-scale infrastructure investments, provides
strong prima facie reasons for conceiving Asia in Indo-Pacific terms. That three-quarters of Asias population lives
within 200kilometres of the Indo-Pacific littoral (along which 80% of the continents major cities are situated)
further attests to the importance of Indo-Pacific Asia as a concentrated and increasingly integrated commercial and
strategic space (Wesley 2015:130).
Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to extrapolate from these trends and assume that an Indo-Pacific revolution
in Australias strategic geography is either imminent, inevitable or desirable. The Indo-Pacific idea foregrounds
themes of pan-regional integration and aggregates two theatres (the AsiaPacific and the Indian Ocean region) that
have historically constituted radically distinct regional security orders. Central to this report is the claim that an
effective Australian grand strategy depends on recognising the distinctiveness of those two orders and calibrating
and differentiating our engagement with those regions accordingly. I now turn to an examination of the historical
development and contemporary configuration of those orders.



An Indo/Pacific alternative for Australias strategic geography

The Indo-Pacific concept captures irrefutably real and gargantuan shifts now reshaping Asia. Nevertheless,
Indo-Pacific advocates overreach in their claim that the Indo-Pacific either is already or will soon become a single
integrated strategic system, stretching from Hollywood to Bollywood (Harris 2015). On the contrary, rather than
aggregating the AsiaPacific and the Indian Ocean region as a single strategic system, were best served with
an Indo/Pacific conception of Australian strategic geography that clearly differentiates the two regions. Such
differentiation is essential to enable us to prioritise our interests in the two regions and to recognise the regionally
distinct opportunities for advancing those interests.

The AsiaPacific regional order

Any analysis of the AsiaPacific strategic system must begin by recognising the defining role the US has played
in shaping the regional order since World War II. Despite Chinas rise and the growing strategic contestation
thats followed in its wake, the regional order remains for now defined by the dominant role of the US. Americas
hegemonic presence has shaped this order in myriad ways. The broad lineaments of the order that Washington built
are as follows.
The key feature of international order in East Asia is a US-dominated security architecture, built on the
foundations of:
a hub and spokes alliance system, grounded most importantly in the patronclient relationship between
America and Japan
a significant forward-deployed American combined arms military presence, built around a network of
permanent bases
the provision of extended nuclear assurance by the US to its junior allies, including Japan, South Korea
and Australia.
Turning to the first of these elements, the security order in East Asia remains grounded in a series of highly
asymmetricbut also highly institutionalisedbilateral alliances linking America to client states in Northeast
Asia, Southeast Asia and Oceania. From the early 1950s, America has secured order in East Asia by formally
committing to the defence of regional clients on a bilateral basis. During the Cold War, forgoing the multilateral
security architecture it favoured in Western Europe from 1949, the US preferred to deal with its regional allies on
a one-on-one basis. This enabled Washington to maximise its leverage and its restraining influence over each ally
(Cha 2010). In the light of East Asias unresolved historical grievances, the hub-and-spokes alliance model also
enabled America to sidestep the challenging task of coaxing local clientsmost notably Japan and South Koreato
reconcile (Goh 2013:155). The bilateral model finally allowed the US to customise its security commitments to each
clients needs. This facilitated the development of densely institutionalised arrangements, which over decades have


From Hollywood to Bollywood? Recasting Australias Indo/Pacific strategic geography

cultivated shared habits of cooperation and robust levels of trust between the US and key local intermediaries,
both military and civilian. Undeniably, Americas relationships with its AsiaPacific clients have hardly lacked
friction. Nevertheless, the longevity of those alliances, coupled with the undiminished urgency of threats that they
confronted in both the Cold War and post-Cold War periods, has produced a robust security architecture with few
counterparts elsewhere, excepting NATO.
To underpin the credibility of the US alliance structure in Asia, America deploys an extensive forward-based
conventional military presence and encompasses its clients within the US nuclear security umbrella. On the
conventional forces front, it continues to base major troop concentrations in Japan and South Korea, the latter
providing a key trip-wire pre-committing the US to defend South Korea in the event of northern aggression.
The 7thFleetwhich remains the USs primary means of force projection throughout the East Asian littoralis
home-ported in Yokosuka, Japan, and cooperates intensively with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force to uphold
freedom of navigation throughout the Pacific (Bisley & Phillips 2013:103). Further afield, in Southeast Asia and
Australia, the US is modestly fortifying its regional position through enhanced pre-positioning of equipment and
increased rotations of US forces (Graham 2015:6667). Regular military exercises over decades have ingrained habits
of security cooperation between the US and its local clients.
On the nuclear front, the US continues to shape the regional order through the extended assurance it has provided
to its clients via the US nuclear umbrella. Historically, the US has played a crucial role in inhibiting nuclear
proliferation throughout East Asia (Gavin 2015). Americas provision of extended nuclear assurance to Japan
discouraged the latter from developing its own independent nuclear deterrent in the 1960s, while a combination
of American inducements and threats also discouraged South Korea and Taiwan from acquiring nuclear weapons
in the 1970s (Gavin 2015:29). Before it ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1973, Australia had
likewise considered developing nuclear weapons (Leah & Lyon 2010). But since becoming an NPT signatory, Australia
(like Japan) has maintained its nuclear abstinence and emerged as a conspicuous advocate of global nuclear
disarmamenta position it awkwardly seeks to reconcile with its explicit reliance on Americas extended nuclear
deterrent as a keystone of its defence policy. Admittedly, the US has radically changed its regional nuclear posture
since the end of the Cold War, moving from a Cold War position of having 3,000nuclear warheads forward-deployed
in the region to none at present (Santoro & Warden 2015:149). Nevertheless, America has worked intensively with
Japan and South Korea in particular to shore up the credibility of its extended nuclear assurance to both countries.
This has entailed measures such as the 2010 establishment of the USJapan Extended Deterrence Dialogue and
the US South Korea Extended Deterrence Policy Committee, which have institutionalised bilateral consultations
aimed at fortifying US-sponsored deterrence in Northeast Asia (Santoro & Warden 2015:151).
The US-sponsored security order in East Asia has nourished the growth of an integrated AsiaPacific economic
space, which again has a counterpart only in the highly interconnected economies of the North Atlantic. From the
establishment of the AsiaPacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in 1989 at the initiative of US allies Japan
and Australia, the region has seen a surge in trade and investment ties. Occurring roughly in tandem with Chinas
economic liberalisation, this has produced, in factory Asia, a vast zone of economic interdependence, combining
the manufacturing expertise of Northeast Asia, the highly skilled and low-cost labour of China and Southeast Asia,
the resources of Australia and the huge consumer market of the US (Wesley 2015). Chinas emergence as the largest
trading partner for most AsiaPacific countries has admittedly diminished the formerly US-centric character of the
regional economy. Nevertheless, Washingtons sponsorship of the Trans-Pacific Partnership reflects the hegemons
longstanding commitment to an openness mission in East Asia (Gavin 2015:14) and its determination to maintain a
trans-oceanic economic order that remains open to American capital, trade and influence.
Acknowledging Americas centrality in the AsiaPacific shouldnt detract from the key order-building role that local
states have also played in constructing the AsiaPacific region. At its base, the AsiaPacific order rests on the USs
relationship with Japan and on Japans key role as a catalyst for regional economic integration. This was especially
so following the yens appreciation in the aftermath of the 1985 Plaza Accord, which stimulated a surge of Japanese
foreign direct investment throughout Southeast Asia (Katzenstein 2005:62). Further afield, a succession of regional


An Indo/Pacific alternative for Australias strategic geography

crises, from the interminable North Korean nuclear challenge to the 199798 Asian financial crisis, have meanwhile
inspired the growth of a raft of multilateral governance mechanisms, driven largely (though not exclusively) by local
Asian states initiative. In particular, ASEAN statesthrough mechanisms such as the ASEAN Regional Forum
have been especially proactive in seeking to shape the regional order in ways conducive to the perpetuation of an
inclusive AsiaPacific economic order, in which America continues to play a preponderant security-providing role
(Goh 2013).
This survey hammers home the point that the AsiaPacific regional order stands today as a genuinely integrated
strategic system, characterised by a robust security architecture, dense webs of economic interdependence and
relatively well-developed (if only partially effective) multilateral governance structures. At its core, this order reflects
the USs decades-long involvement as the regional hegemon and its willingness to provide a range of hegemonic
services (Ikenberry 2016:3) to client states in exchange for their acquiescence in American preponderance. The
AsiaPacific order rested first on the asymmetric security partnership between the US and Japan, the regions
most technologically sophisticated power and until 2010 the worlds second largest economy. More recently,
growing Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea has fortified many Southeast Asian states support for a
reinforced American presence, notwithstanding ASEANs earlier commitment to a strategy of omni-enmeshment
(Goh 2007/08:119) aimed at ideally socialising great powers equally into conformity with an ASEAN-centric
security community.
Despite regional concerns about the substance of the American rebalance, then, Americas order-shaping capacity
in the AsiaPacific remains strong. Existing alliance structures, an extensive forward-based military presence,
longstanding relations of extended nuclear assurance and Americas continued economic centrality together
provide the US with a formidable platform for influence, even as a growing China increasingly contests its primacy.
Washingtons longstanding self-conception as a Pacific powerunderpinned by the reality of its physical status
as a resident power with a presence ranging from Alaska to Hawaii to Micronesiafurther fortifies its commitment
to the region. The combination of a strong American capacity and commitment to shape the AsiaPacific regional
orderderivative of its history and geographycontrasts significantly with its far more attenuated relationship to
the Indian Ocean region.

The Indian Ocean regiona regional order without an orderer?

In contrast to Americas presence in the AsiaPacific region, its presence in the Indian Ocean developed later and is
currently less persistent and pervasive. A focus on this basic difference is essential to grasp the distinctiveness of the
Indian Ocean region and to recognise the limits of an Indo-Pacific concept that too readily conceives the AsiaPacific
and Indian Ocean regions as forming a unified strategic space.
From the early 19th century to the mid-20th century, the Indian Ocean region essentially constituted a British
lake, over which Britain presided as the reigning hegemon (Bose 2005:274). Across the breadth of the Indian Ocean
littoral, from the Trucial States in the Persian Gulf through Indias princely states to the sultanates of the Malay
Peninsula, Britain ruled the region, often in uneasy alliance with conservative local clients (Bayly 2007). The shock
of the Japanese blitzkrieg in Southeast Asia in 1942, combined with growing demands for self-rule in the Indian
subcontinent and elsewhere, nevertheless brought an unexpectedly sudden end to the Pax Britannica after World
War II. Thereafter, Britain continued to try to shape the regional order well into the 1960s, abandoning that pretence
only with the Wilson cabinets 1968 decision to liquidate Britains strategic commitments east of Suez by 1971.
Those efforts notwithstanding, following the collapse of British hegemony, the initiative largely fell to local powers
to develop a new security architecture for the region. With Nehrus India and Sukarnos Indonesia playing leading
roles, the order that these local powers sought to sponsor differed profoundly from the American-centred order
then taking shape in East Asia.
In East Asia, the postwar regional order developed under American leadership as first World War II and then the
Korean War drove Washington to cultivate a hub-and-spokes regional security system built on customised bilateral




From Hollywood to Bollywood? Recasting Australias Indo/Pacific strategic geography

alliances (Ikenberry 2004). Conversely, in the immediate postwar period, both India and Indonesia pursued an
alternative vision of order for the Indian Ocean region, to be grounded in Afro-Asian collaboration and a shared
commitment to non-alignment among the regions indigenous powers. At a succession of anticolonial conclaves
culminating in the 1955 AsianAfrican conference in Bandung, Indonesia, pivotal local states sought to insulate
their immediate neighbourhood from great-power interference and to cultivate more self-consciously independent
foreign policies instead (Acharya 2016:343, Phillips 2016:334).
The SouthSouth cooperation that evolved from this activism was decidedly modest. The IndiaChina war of
October 1962 scotched meaningful hopes of pan-Asian cooperation, while the rise of the New Order in Indonesia
after September 1965 put an end to Sukarno-era anticolonial revisionism (Sukma 1995:311). But, although promises
of Afro-Asian cooperation fell well short of local expectations, the activism of the immediate postwar period did
frustrate Western attempts to introduce alliance-centred security architectures into the region. To cite one example,
Amitav Acharya has credited the long-term failure of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) to the efforts
of activist states at Bandung to delegitimise meaningful local participation in Western-sponsored collective security
structures (Acharya 2016:348). More generally, subsequent local efforts at security cooperation were notable for
their hostility to traditional alliances. Both the ASEAN-sponsored conception of Southeast Asia as a zone of peace,
freedom and neutrality and later attempts to establish the Indian Ocean as a nuclear weapons free zone attest to
this tendency.
The larger significance of these historical patterns is that the Indian Ocean region developed as a cradle for the
Non-Aligned Movement at the same time that East Asia was polarising around Cold War antagonisms. While
US-dominated alliances emerged as the primary collective security vehicle in non-communist East Asia and
Oceania, Indian Ocean states largely eschewed alliance-based forms of security cooperation. Compounding this
difference between the Indian Ocean region and East Asia, Indiathe regions demographic heavyweight and the
worlds largest democracyembraced a strategic outlook radically different from that of Americas East Asian
clients in the immediate postwar decades. Whereas non-communist East Asia largely aligned with the US and
eventually pursued prosperity through export-oriented industrialisation, India pursued strategic autonomy (Hall
2016:273) and committed to a development model based on import-substitution industrialisation down to 1991.
Indias postwar orientation was significant for two reasons. First, Indian estrangement from the US (driven in part
by Americas alignment with Pakistan) foreclosed the early development of a regional security order grounded
in American hegemony. Whereas the East Asian Pax Americana rested on Washingtons alliance with Japan
as a powerful regional anchor-state supporting American dominance, India under Nehru and his successors
was predisposed to resist American power. Second, Indias economic turn inwardseffectively abdicating its
historical role as the flywheel of the Indian Ocean regional economyfundamentally inhibited the development
of the region-wide flows of trade and investment that eventually knitted together the AsiaPacific as a coherent
geo-economic space.
In contrast to East Asias well-developed alliance-centric architecture and high level of economic integration (both
between East Asian states and between East Asia and North America), no equivalent history of cohesion united the
Indian Ocean region. This lack of cohesion manifested itself in the post-Cold War period in the anaemic character of
region-wide multilateral cooperation. The Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation and its successor,
the Indian Ocean Rim Association, both generally failed to promote a robust sense of shared regional identity, much
less spur meaningful multilateral efforts to address collective problems (Michael 2013:1). Instead, when Indian
Ocean littoral states have aspired to cooperation, they have generally done so through subregional groupings, such
as ASEAN or the Gulf Cooperation Council. Indeed, when contrasted against the experience of the AsiaPacific,
the very notion of conceiving the Indian Ocean as forming a cohesive regional order seems contestable, further
sharpening the distinction between the two putative halves of the Indo-Pacific strategic system.
The manifold differences distinguishing the historical experiences of East Asia from those of the Indian Ocean
region are worth noting in their own right, but one final point of differentiation bears special emphasis: the
qualitatively greater level of American interest and investment in East Asia compared with the Indian Ocean region.


An Indo/Pacific alternative for Australias strategic geography

As noted above, America has long considered itself a Pacific power. This was especially so from the 1890s, when its
annexation of Hawaii and conquest of the Philippines made it a resident power in the Western Pacific. Since that
time, Washington has consistently pursued an open door to East Asian markets as a vital national interest and
has underwritten that interest through alliances, forward-deployed military assets, basing networks and extended
nuclear assurances to regional clients.
In contrast, America has harboured no such ambitions in the Indian Ocean. Certainly, the 7th and 5th fleets
have shared between them responsibility for assuring freedom of navigation throughout the region. From the
promulgation of the 1980 Carter doctrine, the US has also harnessed its military power to ensure the developed
worlds unimpeded access to Persian Gulf energy reserves (Yetiv 2008:46). But, beyond those objectives, Americas
intrinsic interests in the Indian Ocean region have been limited. Correspondingly, the US hasnt developed the
alliance networks, extensive forward-deployed military assets or large-scale bases (excepting Diego Garcia) that
underwrite its presence in East Asia. And the American extended nuclear umbrella is largely absent in the Indian
Ocean region, where an escalating Indo-Pakistani nuclear arms race dramatises the limits of the global nuclear
non-proliferation regime (the NPT).

Its clear that America lacks the deep historical roots in the Indian
Ocean region necessary for it to possess regional order-shaping
capacities or commitments comparable to those that it wields in
East Asia.
Its clear that America lacks the deep historical roots in the Indian Ocean region necessary for it to possess regional
order-shaping capacities or commitments comparable to those that it wields in East Asia. Some Indo-Pacific
advocates profess confidence that the US will be able to extend its order-shaping capacities into the Indian Ocean
region, in partnership with a newly extraverted and economically dynamic India (for example, Twining 2007:8283).
The Indo-Pacific case rests on the projection that growing strategic interdependence between the AsiaPacific and
the Indian Ocean region will in any case necessitate such a reorientation in Americas posture. Those projections are
plausible, given the recent surge in interconnectivity between the eastern Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific, but
they are far from predestined.
Moreover, the divergent historical development of regional orders in the AsiaPacific versus the Indian Ocean
region significantly shapes opportunities for Australia to pursue security cooperation within each theatre, let alone
across them. Whether growing Indo-Pacific connectivity will trump divergent Indo/Pacific historical legacies in
shaping Australias emerging strategic environment will be crucial in shaping our grand strategy in coming decades.
Accordingly, I now consider a range of possible future grand strategies for Australia, predicated on different
assessments of maritime Asias likely trajectory, before concluding in Chapter6 with policy recommendations for
the way Australia might best navigate its Indo/Pacific future.




The Indo-Pacific spectrum: assessing Australias strategic

The preceding chapters foreground two trends that are germane in assessing the evolution of Australias strategic
environment. Indo-Pacific advocates rightly emphasise an ongoing connectivity revolution thats incorporating
portions of the Indian Ocean region more directly into webs of strategic and economic interaction formerly confined
to the AsiaPacific. But the divergent histories of the two regions have generated distinct regional orders, which
present meaningfully different opportunities for security cooperation.
Whether those differences will endure or be swept away by the connectivity revolution and the continuing rise of
powers such as India and Indonesia remains to be seen. The futures inherent indeterminacy notwithstanding, we
can identify a range of possible futures for Asia that imply correspondingly different grand strategies for Australia.
Those options encompass distinct strategic geographies, models of international order and policy imperatives
for Australia.

1. AsiaPacific firstthe Pax Americana endures

This vision of Asias future proceeds from the assumption that the AsiaPacific rather than the Indo-Pacific will
remain Asias main locus of strategic and economic interaction for the foreseeable future. For proponents of an
AsiaPacific first (AP1) strategy, the security and economic links coalescing between the eastern Indian Ocean
and the AsiaPacific wont increase sufficiently to warrant an Indo-Pacific characterisation of Australias strategic
environment. Instead, Northeast Asia will remain our trading centre of gravitya development that our recent
bilateral preferential trading agreements with China, Japan and South Korea will consolidate.
Through an AP1 lens, the challenge of accommodating Chinas growing power and ambition in East Asia will remain
Asias defining problem. Chinas economic ascendancy has already reshaped the region, such that even a stalling of
its continued rise would still leave a China far more powerful than its been at any previous time during the modern
era. Chinas growing assertiveness and its increasingly sophisticated anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities
have already significantly sharpened East Asias maritime security dilemmas (Brooks & Wohlforth 2016:49).
From an AP1 perspective, Chinas rise and the fear that it has aroused in others therefore eclipses all other Asian
security challenges in scale and urgency. At the same time, the USs forward-engaged role in East Asia and the
sophisticated and institutionalised character of the regional security architecture provide the current order
with important sources of resilience. As a key beneficiary of the status quo, an Australia that focuses its energies
primarily on the AsiaPacific is well placed to help preserve that order, in the first instance by intensifying defence
cooperation with the US and other regional US allies. Institutions such as the Trilateral Security Dialogue provide
a ready-made medium for Australia to coordinate its posture with the US and Tokyo, while Washingtons support
for greater spoke to spoke cooperation (Wainwright 2016:3) provides a facilitative context for pushing the

The Indo-Pacific spectrum: assessing Australias strategic options

hub-and-spokes alliance system towards a more integrated webs and wheels architecture (Bisley 2008, Blair &
Hanley 2001). At the same time, the regions multilateral architecture provides an additional potential resource for
order preservation, especially given the widespread regional support for American engagement that infuses that
architecture (Goh2013).
Conversely, whereas Indo-Pacific advocates anticipate a far greater role for India in Asias emerging strategic order,
from an AP1 vantage point, India is likely to remain unable and unwilling to play the counterbalancing role that
many Westerners (for example, Twining 2007) have optimistically assigned to it. Despite the fact that India will soon
eclipse China as the worlds most populous nation, the Indian economy remains a fifth the size of Chinas (World
Bank 2014b). Indias endemic internal governance challenges pose formidable obstacles to its pursuit of an East
Asian-style, manufacturing-led, export-oriented industrialisation development path. This in turn inhibits its growth
trajectory, as well as its capacity to develop the indigenous defence industrial base necessary to balance China
militarily over the longer term. Much to the frustration of negotiating partners anxious to promote reciprocal trade
liberalisation with India, Indian protectionist sentiments remain strong. To give one example, New Delhis reluctance
to countenance major concessions as a putative partner in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership
jeopardises the success of the most conspicuous current effort to liberalise trade between India and major East
Asian markets (Priya 2016). Without a transformation in Indias trade policy, its rise is likely to be more protracted,
and the growth in economic ties linking India to East Asia slower, than Indo-Pacific advocates hope.
Moreover, even assuming that India is able to overcome domestic obstacles to its continued economic rise, an AP1
perspective notes that Indias longstanding commitment to strategic autonomy makes it unlikely that New Delhi
would be enlisted into a China-balancing coalition. Indias reluctance to involve itself in the ongoing South China Sea
dispute (Rajendrum 2014:5) provides one early indicator that its genuine consternation about Chinas rise mightnt
nudge New Delhi towards a coordinated response with Western and East Asian powers. Instead, Indian energies
are as likely to be channelled bilaterally in the first instance towards managing the terrestrial balance of power
with China along Indias contested northern border. The challenge of containing Pakistan and conciliating Indias
neighbours in South Asiaa necessary precursor to more expansive Indian ambitionswill also remain an urgent
priority for the foreseeable future, consistent with the Modi governments Neighbourhood First foreign policy
(Jaishankar 2016). This constrains India from wholeheartedly embracing an Indo-Pacific worldview, placing an
important medium-term limit on the concepts transition from idea to reality.
An AP1 strategy presumes that regional strategic and economic integration will remain primarily focused on the
East Asia North America nexus, rather than broadening out to encompass an Indo-Pacific horizon. It also expects
that regional support for an American-led security order will remain high and that the institutions of that order will
prove adaptive enough to meet the challenges of Chinas rise without needing to enlist India as part of a balancing
coalition against China. From an Australian vantage point, an AP1 strategy finally offers the virtue of counselling a
continued concentration on East Asia as our primary focus of regional engagement. Although an AP1 perspective
doesnt proscribe Australian efforts to cultivate cooperation with Indian Ocean states, it assigns them secondary
status to a more urgent and enduring threefold missionto keep America in as East Asias hegemonic security
provider, to encourage Chinas continued socialisation into the existing rules-based order, and to keep Asia (China
included) open to Australian trade and investment.

2. Indo-Pacific minimalism: an Indo-Pacific balance of power

The AP1 grand strategy is the most conservative perspective considered here, in that it counsels Australia to double
down on its traditional dual track (Tow 2008:30) strategy of alliance management with the US and its regional
partners, alongside maintaining Australias continued support for AsiaPacific multilateralism.
Proponents of a grand strategy centred on an Indo-Pacific balance of power (what I call Indo-Pacific minimalism)
would agree with AP1 advocates on the need to manage the disruptive impact of Chinas rise in East Asia. But they
would differ in their assessment of Americas long-term willingness and capacity to uphold the present security




From Hollywood to Bollywood? Recasting Australias Indo/Pacific strategic geography

order in East Asia, even with the assistance of Japan, other hub-and-spokes allies and non-traditional security
partners, such as Vietnam. This pessimism is grounded first in recognition that the US remains for now a global
power with global interests and commitments. Even keeping in mind the AsiaPacific rebalance, America will be
unable to devote itself exclusively to superintending the East Asian security order. This is especially so in the light of
persistent instability in the Middle East and Russian revisionism in the post-Soviet space. Conversely, China remains
free to dedicate the bulk of its military modernisation to A2/AD efforts aimed at circumscribing Americas scope for
intervention in Chinas maritime periphery, while also undermining the credibility of American commitments to
regional allies.
The lacklustre success of Abe-nomics in reviving the Japanese economy provides a further warrant for pessimism
about the durability and resilience of East Asias current security order (Glosserman 2016). To recap an earlier
observation, the USs dominance in East Asia remains fundamentally tied to its asymmetric partnership with Japan.
In the context of increasingly open Sino-Japanese rivalry, the Abe government has succeeded in revising Japans
security posture. This potentially enables it to play a more forward-leaning role as a regional security provider, as
the US, Australia and others have long wished. Nevertheless, Japans limited economic revival under Prime Minister
Abe raises the real risk that Japan wont regain the dynamism necessary to balance against China in the long term.
The smaller strategic weight of other regional allies provides further grounds for doubting the collective balancing
capacity of the hub-and-spokes alliance system. Added to these risks is the unlikely but real possibility of a future
US turn to populism and protectionism, which could stymie the Trans-Pacific Partnership, undercut regional allies
faith in the credibility of the US commitment to East Asia and accelerate the decline of the existing regional order
In the face of the current orders fragility in East Asia, then, Indo-Pacific minimalism recommends enlisting India
to assist in balancing against China and so to reinforce strategic stability in the face of prospective long-term US
relative decline. Unlike the AP1 position, Indo-Pacific minimalism evinces greater confidence in Indias long-term
growth prospects. In particular, minimalists point to Indias youthful and increasingly educated population and
to governmental efforts to overcome the stultifying legacy of the licence Raj, which has historically limited
Indias international competitiveness (Green & Twining 2008:9). The efforts of Japan, in particular, to strengthen
Indias manufacturing capacity through centrepiece initiatives such as the DelhiMumbai Industrial Corridor
(Rajendrum 2014:7) provide further grounds for Indo-Pacific minimalists optimism about Indias capacity for
economic transformation.

Indias enormous potential as an economic and military player in the

region recommends it to Indo-Pacific minimalists as the most logical
counterweight to Chinese power.
Indias enormous potential as an economic and military player in the region recommends it to Indo-Pacific
minimalists as the most logical counterweight to Chinese power. No other emerging power in Asia possesses as
much prospective strategic weight as India. Pointedly, from an Indo-Pacific minimalist standpoint, Indias historical
commitment to strategic autonomy and its more recent embrace of multi-alignment (Hall 2016) dont rule it out
from playing a balancing role against China. Given its enormous latent power, India doesnt need to be a formal ally
of the US and the regions other maritime democraciesit simply needs to be. Through this lens, Indias existing
anxieties about Chinas rise should be sufficient to motivate its continuing military modernisation. The growth
of Indian naval power in the Indian Ocean region and beyond will constitute an important check on Chinese
revisionism, while the two countries interminable border dispute and the Sino-Pakistani all weather friendship will
preclude a Sino-Indian rapprochement. These factors should make India amenable to participation in a soft entente
to balance China in a manner that preserves Indias foreign policy independence while mitigating the insecurities
about Chinas rise that India shares with other regional actors.


The Indo-Pacific spectrum: assessing Australias strategic options

From an Australian vantage point, Indo-Pacific minimalism counsels meaningful shifts in Australias regional
posture. Most significantly, it stresses the need to redouble our efforts to cultivate a more robust strategic
partnership with India to help nurture its nascent balancing role against China. Our decision to reverse our ban on
uranium sales to India is an important milestone in this process, as are more recent maritime security cooperation
initiatives (Brewster 2015a). Consistent with Australias larger objective to moderate Chinas ambitions, a regional
strategy grounded in Indo-Pacific minimalism would also entail accelerated Australian efforts to encourage
greater Indian cooperation in minilateral security initiatives involving the US and other spoke allies, such as Japan
(Brewster 2015a).
The failure of the 2007 democratic quad has made many in the region wary of revisiting such an ambitious
enterprise. Neverthelessshorn of its idealistic rhetorican informal alignment of this kind would form the core
idea and logical endpoint of a minimalist Indo-Pacific grand strategy. This is because Indo-Pacific minimalism
rests on the conviction that, in the face of declining American hegemony and Chinese revisionism, international
order in Asia can be maintained only through the operation of the balance of power. And a balance of power most
favourable to preserving Australias interests can be engineered only by encouraging Indias entry as a fully-fledged
great power in East Asia. Indo-Pacific minimalism assumes that Asias core strategic antagonisms (between the US
and China, Japan and China, and China and India) will prove enduring. Therefore, the best we can hope is that these
antagonisms are managed in ways that contain great-power rivalry within manageable bounds while preserving
the open maritime order that sustains Australias access to the global markets on which our prosperity depends.
Enlarging Australias strategic geography to an Indo-Pacific (or even more narrowly IndiaPacific) framework
provides a means of advancing this goal. And it does so not least by concentrating Australias energies on the task of
strengthening India as the counterweight potentially most capable of tilting the regional balance of power in favour
of the regions maritime democracies.

3. Indo-Pacific maximalisman Indo-Pacific great power concert

Indo-Pacific maximalists agree with minimalists on the necessity of redefining Australia from an AsiaPacific to
an Indo-Pacific power. Nevertheless, key differences distinguish Indo-Pacific maximalism from its minimalist
counterpart. First, Indo-Pacific maximalism places greater weight on the speed and breadth of the connectivity
revolution linking the AsiaPacific with the Indian Ocean region. Second, because of the comprehensiveness of this
transformation, Indo-Pacific maximalists prescribe far greater changes for Australias foreign and defence policy
than do minimalists. Whereas minimalists focus on drawing India into a balancing role in East Asia, maximalists
see Australias engagement with India as part of a far more expansive program of regional order-building. Finally,
Indo-Pacific minimalism enjoins an exclusionary order, oriented primarily towards moderating Chinas ambitions
by balancing its rising power against an entente of maritime democracies. Conversely, maximalists aspire to a more
inclusive order that acknowledges Chinas legitimate interests as a major maritime trading nation (Medcalf 2015) and
is grounded in Chinas incorporation within an Indo-Pacific concert of powers.
For Indo-Pacific maximalists, the trend towards a broader, more integrated and more multipolar Asia is clear.
Surging trade and investment ties linking a swathe of territory from the Persian Gulf to the Sea of Japan constitute
a critical dimension of this shift. But this integration is both a reflection and a reinforcement of a larger causethe
growing extraversion of the regions established and emerging great powers (Varghese 2015). This extraversion
has already manifested itself in numerous ways, such as Indias attempts to consolidate its partnerships with small
Indian Ocean states while simultaneously strengthening its bilateral ties with maritime democracies, notably the
US, Japan and Australia (Jaishhankar 2016, Lang 2015). Likewise, the Abe governments efforts to foster trilateral
cooperation with Australia and India (Lang 2015) testify not only to Tokyos new extraversion but also to its
broadening of its strategic geography beyond a Northeast Asian frame. Meanwhile, Chinas naval activism in the
Indian Ocean, combined with the massive increases in Asian connectivity promised in its One Belt, One Road
initiative, reinforces the maximalists claim that the patterns of interaction linking Asias great powers are acquiring
an Indo-Pacific character (see, for example, Medcalf 2014).




From Hollywood to Bollywood? Recasting Australias Indo/Pacific strategic geography

Beyond noting the more extraverted strategic behaviour of the regions great powers, maximalists also note
changes in rhetoric that point to those states embracing a more expansive Indo-Pacific strategic geography. Thus,
in the USIndia Joint Strategic Vision for the AsiaPacific and the Indian Ocean, Washington and New Delhi cast
their expanded strategic partnership in capacious terms that encompassed both maritime theatres (White House
2015). The Joint Statement on India and Japan Vision 2025 also identifies the Indo-Pacific as its geographical focus.
Such language foregrounds an apparent convergence in Tokyos and New Delhis thinking towards an Indo-Pacific
consensus in their shared strategic geography (MEA2015). Former Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natelagawas
calls for an Indo-Pacific maritime treaty (Georgieff 2013) and the Jokowi governments stress on Indonesia as
a global maritime axis linking the Indian Ocean to the Pacific (Shekhar & Liow 2014) are further evidence that
Indo-Pacific ideas have begun to influence the outlook of Southeast Asias largest indigenous power. Finally, while
China has snubbed Indo-Pacific language, its increased stress on far sea defence similarly indicates a broadening
of its strategic horizons beyond East Asia (Ramadhani 2015).
For maximalists, then, the regions powers are confirmingin actions and languagethe emergent reality of
the Indo-Pacific as an integrated strategic theatre. China and Indiahistorically continentalist in their strategic
orientationare now jockeying with established maritime powers such as the US and Japan for naval power and
influence (Phillips 2011, Wesley 2015). Confident about Chinas and Indias continued rise, Indo-Pacific maximalism
questions the AP1 stance that todays American-dominated security order can accommodate those powers without
radical revision. Maximalists also doubt the wisdom of ignoring India or, alternatively, following minimalists counsel
to try to enlist India as part of an anti-China containment entente (Medcalf 2015).
From a maximalist viewpoint, the regions chief challenge isnt Chinas rise per se. Rather, its the need to craft a
security order thats larger, more comprehensive, more inclusive and therefore more sustainable in the long term
than the Pax Americana. This order must be large enough to accommodate all the regions established and emerging
great powers. It must be comprehensive in its design, enabling regional powers not only to avoid the risk of armed
conflict but also to cooperate in suppressing non-traditional security challenges, such as piracy and terrorism. And it
must be inclusive, incorporating China especially as an active participant, rather than the target of power balancing
by an ad hoc entente of maritime democracies.
In its ordering assumptions, Indo-Pacific maximalism conforms neither to the renovated American hegemony
of AP1 nor to the minimalists model of an Indo-Pacific balance of power. Rather, it most closely (if imperfectly)
approximates a concert of powers arrangement. An Indo-Pacific concert would ideally incorporate the regions
established and emerging powers within a common security architecture. This inclusive architecturepossibly
centred on an existing platform, such as the East Asia Summit or the ASEAN Regional Forumwould provide
regional powers with a forum to negotiate shared principles of security cooperation. In particular, it would seek to
catalyse the development of confidence-building measures between the regions major naval powers with a view
to reducing regional maritime tensions, for example by promoting shared incident-at-sea protocols (Heinrichs et al.
If successful in its primary aim of defusing tensions between the regions main maritime powers, the maximalist
vision for regional order might evolve over time from a great-power concert to an Indo-Pacific security community
(Adler & Barnett 1998). This would entail in the first instance the cultivation of more issue-specific minilateral and
bilateral initiatives aimed at fostering habits of cooperation to address the non-traditional security challenges
noted above. It would also involve a longer term move away from an exclusively great-power-centred concert
arrangement towards a more inclusive security architecture providing greater opportunities for order-shaping
influence for the regions smaller powers. But a maximalist vision would first have to focus on the central challenge
of accommodating established and emerging naval great powers within a common security architecture with a view
to mitigating the tensions arising from a more crowded and contested Indo-Pacific seascape.
Translating the maximalists vision of an Indo-Pacific great-power concert into policy reality presents immediate
challenges for Australia. Most obviously, if regional order depends on forging such a concert, our middle-power
status ostensibly precludes us from playing anything more than a supporting role in pushing for that outcome.


The Indo-Pacific spectrum: assessing Australias strategic options

Admittedly, our historical entrepreneurship in sponsoring regional order-building initiatives partially qualifies this
pessimism. Nevertheless, for Australia to become a credible champion of Indo-Pacific maximalism, we would need
to comprehensively reorient our foreign and defence policies, signalling our unequivocal self-identification as a truly
Indo-Pacific power.

At a practical level, Indo-Pacific maximalism would counsel

Australias enhanced engagement with India and Indonesia.
At a practical level, Indo-Pacific maximalism would counsel Australias enhanced engagement with India and
Indonesia. On its face, this imperative is consistent with Indo-Pacific minimalism, but the maximalist vision would
encompass far more sustained, institutionalised and comprehensive engagement and foreground a special focus
on maritime security cooperation. Specifically, it would involve moves to permanently upgrade bilateral relations,
for example by institutionalising annual 2+2 meetings between Australias foreign and defence ministers and their
Indian counterparts, complementing existing annual 2+2 meetings between Australia and Indonesia. Such a move
would symbolically affirm the centrality of these relationships to Australias regional vision, institutionalising
an Indo-Pacific rather than AsiaPacific orientation. Additionally, Australia would need to build on existing
initiatives to strengthen bilateral (and perhaps even trilateral) naval cooperation with both countries (Brewster
2015a). To compensate for the current heavy AsiaPacific lopsidedness of Australias regional engagement, a
maximalist Indo-Pacific foreign policy would also potentially involve cultivating stronger relations with smaller
Indian Ocean island states, such as the Maldives, Mauritius, Seychelles and Sri Lanka. Such initiatives would aim to
strengthen those states capacities for contributing to Indian Ocean maritime surveillance and could potentially
be pursued in coordination with India, which is already advanced in upgrading its own engagement with them
(Brewster 2015b:234). Australias membership of organisations such as the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium and the
Indian Ocean Rim Association also provides us with a platform for advocating for an inclusive maritime security
architecture, which remains sensitive to Chinas interests, while remaining steadfast in opposing any armed attempt
to revise Asias maritime order (Phillips 2013a).
Beyond these initiatives, a maximalist Indo-Pacific posture also implies efforts to increase Australias strategic
and economic heft as a genuinely Indo-Pacific (rather than AsiaPacific) power. Internationally, this would involve
increased Australian activism to promote the success of efforts, such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic
Partnership, that aim to consolidate a more open trading and investment order across Indo-Pacific Asia. Australia
would also seek to underwrite this openness agenda through enhanced support for regional projectssuch as the
Master Plan for ASEAN Connectivitythat aim to facilitate the expansion in infrastructure necessary to support
Indo-Pacific economic integration.
Domestically, meanwhile, Indo-Pacific maximalism would necessitate accelerated efforts to develop Australias
north, consistent with the ambitious goals outlined in the Australian Governments White Paper on developing
northern Australia. As the White Paper acknowledged, northern Australia is both a gateway for our defence and
security cooperation into the Indo-Pacific region and a trade gateway to key Asian markets (Department of
Industry 2015:2). Accelerating the development of the north would be a prerequisite for Australia to cultivate the
credibility, capacity and strategic and economic weight necessary to spearhead a maximalist Indo-Pacific vision of
regional order, and would be an essential corollary to the international order-building initiatives outlined above.

4. Indo-Pacific functionalisman Indo-Pacific maritime condominium

The strategies considered above have a big picture focus embodying architectural solutions (Green & Shearer
2012:177) to the challenge of regional order. By contrast, Indo-Pacific functionalism demarcates a position that is
agnostic about Asias long-term trajectory and sceptical about the possibility or desirability of securing stability




From Hollywood to Bollywood? Recasting Australias Indo/Pacific strategic geography

through resort to big-picture solutions. Abjuring grand designs, Indo-Pacific functionalism advocates pursuing more
focused and issue-specific forms of security cooperation. It acknowledges growing maritime connectivity between
the Indian Ocean and the AsiaPacific and the need to foster cooperation to mitigate the nascent rivalries arising
from this integration. Nevertheless, in contrast to Indo-Pacific maximalists, functionalists also stress the limited and
issue-specific character of Indo-Pacific integration to date and the need to calibrate regional security cooperation
initiatives accordingly.
In their characterisation of Asias strategic geography, maximalists place great emphasis on the importance of the
maritime energy superhighway tying the Indian Ocean region together with littoral East Asia. They see growing
pan-regional energy interdependence as a leading-edge indicator of a more general process of integration that will
rapidly yield an Indo-Pacific regional security order (Brewster 2015c:49, Medcalf 2014, Wesley 2015). And they also
see this energy interdependenceand the growing tensions arising over control of major inter-regional SLOCsas
an urgent near-term source of rivalry in its own right.
Indo-Pacific functionalists share the maximalists concern over the growing intersection between energy security
concerns and SLOC-focused maritime rivalries. But they dont extrapolate from this challenge to presume that a
more system-wide reorientation from an AsiaPacific to an Indo-Pacific regional security order is imminent. By
itself, growing pan-regional energy interdependence may or may not presage a more general transformation of
Asias strategic geography. This is not least because the very vulnerabilities that interdependence has produced
are already prompting attempts at risk mitigation (such as the One Belt, One Road initiative) by great powers such
as China (Rolland 2015:3). Moreover, even if we assume the medium-term salience of energy-related maritime
vulnerabilities, that doesnt by itself demand a wholesale pivot towards an Indo-Pacific strategic reorientation.
On the contrary, if the Indo-Pacific security dilemma coheres primarily around the nexus of energy and maritime
security, then that recommends a more focused policy response, tailored with this challenge in mind.
From a functionalist perspective, the primary purpose of an Australian Indo-Pacific policy should be to work with
regional partners to mitigate rivalries arising specifically from the energy maritime security nexus, rather than
seeking a comprehensive architectural solution to the regions rivalries. The focus of such an initiative would be on
trying to remove Asias pan-regional energy interdependence as a source of strategic anxiety for the regions great
powers, especially in relation to the SLOCs passing through the Strait of Malacca.
Such an initiative might comprise Australian support for:
a desecuritisation of regional energy security perceptions, especially those relating to sea-based trade in oil and
petroleum products
a diversification of pan-regional energy sources and supply routes
building on these first two elements, an attempted demilitarisation of regional maritime disputes, especially in
relation to the South China Sea.
Desecuritisation refers to the need to encourage regional partners to conceptualise seaborne trade in energy
commodities as mainly a commercial rather than strategic concern (Phillips 2013b). Northeast Asian states have
long fretted over the Malacca dilemmathe risk that seaborne energy supplies might be disrupted through
naval blockade. Indeed, observers have acknowledged the Malacca dilemma as a primary motivator for Chinas
investment in far sea defence capabilities, and thus a key driver of Indo-Pacific maritime rivalries (Kennedy
2010:142, Rolland 2015:3). But, despite genuine alarm about the Malacca dilemma in parts of Chinas foreign policy
establishment, the spectre of a maritime energy blockade is more illusory than real. This is in part because such
fears overestimate the capacity of even the US Navy to sustain a targeted energy blockade against adversaries while
simultaneously keeping disruption of allies energy supplies to a minimum (Kennedy 2010:142143). In the specific
case of oil, fears of an energy blockade around Indo-Pacific chokepoints overlook the fact that oil is a globally priced
commodity. Consequently, efforts to engage in a targeted blockade would be likely to drive oil prices higher globally,
to the detriment of all parties involved in a regional conflict (Kennedy 2010:142143).


The Indo-Pacific spectrum: assessing Australias strategic options

Efforts to stabilise Indo-Pacific maritime rivalries around the regions main SLOCs might therefore begin with
more concerted efforts to reframe seaborne energy trade as primarily a commercial rather than a strategic issue.
Given the widespread (if largely misplaced) character of energy blockade fears, however, Australia would need to
reinforce desecuritisation efforts by supporting initiatives that aim to diversify energy supply routes and energy
sources. For the former, this might entail support for Chinas initiatives to develop its trans-Eurasian road, rail and
pipeline networks, conceivably through investment funds channelled through Australias participation in the Asia
Infrastructure Investment Bank. Such commitments wouldnt necessarily eliminate the danger of Chinas energy
supplies being interdicted, especially given the arguably greater ease of disrupting fixed land-based energy supply
routes versus their maritime counterparts. Nevertheless, to the extent that such projects diversify Chinas energy
supply routes and thus mitigate Beijings concerns about the supposed threat of maritime interdiction, they may
help to further reduce security concerns about Indo-Pacific chokepoints, strengthening strategic stability. More
general efforts to support a diversification of energy sources away from Middle Eastern oil, in particular, would
likewise potentially mitigate Indo-Pacific maritime security anxieties.

Given Indonesias interest in positioning itself as a global maritime

axis, a focused Indo-Pacific functionalist strategy may also dovetail
with the existing imperative of consolidating a more robust
AustraliaIndonesia security partnership.
A functionalist Indo-Pacific strategy would also logically aim to work towards a long-term demilitarisation of
Indo-Pacific Asias maritime disputes, particularly those centred on the SLOCs traversing the South China Sea.
On this score, Australias scope for independent action is limited, and the immediate-term prospects of a happy
outcome are remote. Nevertheless, confining an Indo-Pacific strategy in this way would focus Australias energies
on a discrete and proximate subregion of Asiamaritime Southeast Asia, in which our vital security interests are
already engaged. It would also concentrate Australian efforts on addressing the specific type of security competition
(maritime and SLOC-focused) that Indo-Pacific enthusiasts most frequently foreground in making the case for
reframing Australias strategic geography in Indo-Pacific terms. Finally, given Indonesias interest in positioning itself
as a global maritime axis (Shekhar & Liow 2014), a focused Indo-Pacific functionalist strategy may also dovetail with
the existing imperative of consolidating a more robust AustraliaIndonesia security partnership.
Indo-Pacific functionalism offers a strategy for Australia thats more modest than its maximalist alternative, less
confrontational than balance-of-power minimalism, and attuned to the Indo-Pacifics increasing integration in ways
an AP1 strategy ostentatiously neglects.
Nevertheless, Indo-Pacific functionalism remains open to criticism. With its discrete focus on addressing SLOCand chokepoint-centred security dilemmas, Indo-Pacific functionalism arguably seeks to remedy a symptom of
great-power competition rather than confronting its causes. If peacefully managing Chinas rise constitutes Asias
main challenge, then tensions arising over Asias seaborne energy commerce become mere reflections of a much
larger contest for regional influence. Efforts to mitigate this one challenge in isolation will therefore be difficult to
advance and potentially inconsequential and impermanent even if successful.
Indo-Pacific functionalism also potentially sits at odds with the perceived imperative of constraining Chinas rise
within the parameters of the existing order. At its core, its a strategy of assurance directed primarily at China. It
aims to reduce regional tensions generally, but it does so in the first instance by addressing the specific concerns
over vulnerabilities arising from Chinese dependence on the Indo-Pacific seaborne energy trade. However, from
the perspective of those seeking to induce greater Chinese restraint, such assurance efforts potentially run directly
counter to the need to deter Chinese revisionism. Regardless of the practical feasibility of imposing an energy




From Hollywood to Bollywood? Recasting Australias Indo/Pacific strategic geography

blockade on China, the perceived reality of this threat may be valuable for those who seek to limit Chinese activism
by forcing Beijing to disperse its energies by planning for a wider range of contingencies. If constrainment (Segal
1996) and deterrence are to be the touchstone of regional efforts to manage Chinas rise, then functionalists pursuit
of a SLOC- and chokepoint-centred maritime condominium isnt merely naive but may be counterproductive to the
task of socialising China into acceptance of the present order.
From a feasibility perspective, the pursuit of an Indo-Pacific maritime condominium may in any case be
problematic for Australia. This is in part because the success of such a project depends on an alignment of
great-power interestsand a willingness to accommodate one anotherover which we have limited influence. The
condominium idea would also potentially depend on unprecedented cooperation between Australia and Indonesia.
While its easy to argue in principle for Australia to seize the opportunity to align itself with Indonesias maritime
aspirations, the challenges of translating that aspiration into policy are profound. This is partially due to historically
entrenched differences in Australian and Indonesian order-building strategies in maritime Southeast Asia. Whereas
we have historically sought to integrate Southeast Asia within Western-dominated security architectures, Indonesia
has since ASEANs establishment sought to insulate Southeast Asia from great-power influence as much as possible
(Phillips & Hiariej 2016:427). This difference in orientations qualifies hopes that Indonesia and Australia might
meaningfully cooperate to co-sponsor an Indo-Pacific maritime condominium.
Ongoing Chinese revisionism in the South China Sea may of course nudge Jakarta to reconsider its order-building
approach to maritime Southeast Asia. Nevertheless, Indonesias modest naval capabilities limit its strategic heft
(Shekhar & Liow 2014), diminishing its prospective value as a would-be co-sponsor of an Indo-Pacific maritime
condominium. Additionally, despite earlier calls from Jakarta for an Indo-Pacific maritime treaty (Georgieff 2013)
and the Jokowi administrations stated desire to position Indonesia as a global maritime axis, little has been
done to date to translate those aspirations into reality. This casts doubt on Jakartas commitment to this vision
and further qualifies hopes that Australia might find the diplomatic partners necessary to make Indo-Pacific
functionalism viable.



Indo/Pacific hedginga triple-track grand strategy for Australia

The grand strategies examined in Chapter5 all have significant limitations. AsiaPacific first (AP1) gestures towards
acknowledging Indias rising prominence in a more contested Asia, but it remains too rigid in its commitment to
doubling down on Australias traditionally highly East Asia-centric approach to regional order-building. It also
assumes too readily the resilience of the US-centric security order and pays insufficient heed to the need to renovate
that order to allow for the constructive involvement of rising regional powers.
Indo-Pacific minimalists are more open to the urgency of bringing in additional powers to balance China and to
the need to hedge against the risk of US retrenchment in Asia. Nevertheless, Indo-Pacific minimalism is also the
most confrontational strategy considered here. In advocating an exclusionary balance-of-power order, Indo-Pacific
minimalists risk cementing Chinas estrangement, priming the region for continued confrontation. Indo-Pacific
minimalism also too readily assumes Indias willingness and capacity to join a balancing coalition rather than
continue its own hedging strategy of multi-alignment (Hall2016).
Conversely, Indo-Pacific maximalism embraces a far more inclusive vision of regional order resembling a
great-power concert rather than a balance-of-power arrangement. Maximalism is the most bullish strategy in its
assessment of the speed and extent of Indo-Pacific integration and the most ambitious in the order-building project
that it advocates. Nevertheless, this great ambition is also its great weakness. Despite maximalists optimistic
prognostications, Indias and Indonesias rises are not foreordained. This uncertainty should warrant caution and
guard against order-building projects that are too dependent on Indias and Indonesias triumphant emergence as
fully-fledged regional great powers.
More generally, the vast scope of the maximalist project raises important questions about its feasibility. Indo-Pacific
functionalism seeks to remedy this defect by advocating that Australia concentrate its energies on addressing the
energy maritime security nexus that an Indo-Pacific strategic geography most strongly foregrounds. But this more
discrete focus brings its own problems, not least its potential inconsistency with the larger imperative to constrain
Chinese revisionism and its potential over-reliance on non-traditional partners (principally Indonesia) to help
co-sponsor an Indo-Pacific maritime condominium.
Given the irresolvable uncertainties manifest in a rapidly changing Asia, I dont wholeheartedly endorse any of the
strategies examined in Chapter5. Instead, I advocate an alternative triple-track strategy of regional order-building,
centred on the concept of Indo/Pacific hedging.
The modifier Indo/Pacific (as opposed to Indo-Pacific) foregrounds the fact that maritime Asia is composed of
increasingly interconnected but nevertheless durably distinct regional security orders. While conceding maritime
Asias ongoing connectivity revolution, an Indo/Pacific strategic geography acknowledges that the economic ties
drawing the Indian Ocean region and littoral East Asia together remain for now primarily confined to the arena
of the seaborne energy trade. This could change rapidly depending on the speed of Indias industrialisation and
integration into regional production networks, although that development is far from inevitable in the medium


From Hollywood to Bollywood? Recasting Australias Indo/Pacific strategic geography

term. Contrarily, the historical legacies of Americas differential integration into the East Asian and Indian Ocean
regional security orders are likely to prove durable. Within East Asia, the hub-and-spokes alliance system constitutes
a heavily institutionalised security arrangement. This system structures local powers opportunities for defence
cooperation in ways that have no analogues in the Indian Ocean region. At the same time, littoral East Asia remains
more crowded by established and emerging great powers and is the setting for a far higher number of militarised
maritime disputes than the Indian Ocean. For this reason, any sensible Australian grand strategy must begin by
acknowledging the distinctiveness of the Indo and Pacific halves of our maritime environment, and the priority of
the latter over the former.
Besides endorsing an Indo/Pacific strategic geography, I also advocate a hedging posture for Australia. By hedging, I
dont mean a move away from the US as Australias primary security patron or an abandonment of the commitment
to open multilateralism that has characterised our AsiaPacific regional engagement since the 1970s. Both ANZUS
and our commitment to inclusive multilateralism have served Australias interests well and will continue to do so for
the foreseeable future. Rather, a hedging posture simply acknowledges that we confront significant uncertainties,
especially concerning Chinas potential future orientation towards the existing order. Accordingly, Australia must
work with like-minded states to support an Indo/Pacific security order thats strong enough to guard against the
threat of armed revisionism while still being supple enough to accommodate the legitimate ambitions of rising Asian
great powers. Additionally, this order must also be sustainable. Tomorrows Indo/Pacific order must draw more
comprehensively on regional states working in partnership with Washington and each other, rather than relying on
the US to continue to bear the overwhelming burden of upholding regional peace and security.
With these imperatives of strength, suppleness and sustainability in mind, I propose a triple-track strategy, centred
on three policies:
In the AsiaPacific, a focus on helping to refurbish the San Francisco alliance system to deter armed revisionist
attempts to challenge the current rules-based order.
In the Indian Ocean, the cultivation of bottom up forms of bilateral and minilateral security cooperation to
incrementally develop Asias collective capacity to manage traditional and non-traditional challenges.
As a longer term project, working with like-minded states to develop an Indo-Pacific Security Dialogue, aimed at
preserving and expanding an open and inclusive economic and security order.
Consistent with the recognition that the threat of armed Chinese revisionism constitutes the most significant
near-term threat to peace in Asia, an Indo/Pacific hedging strategy would entail a combination of ANZUS alliance
modernisation together with intensified efforts to strengthen spoke to spoke cooperation between Americas
regional treaty allies. The imperative to move from a hub-and-spokes to a wheels and webs security architecture
in East Asia stems from the need to maintain the credibility of the existing US-centred security system in a context
of rapidly shifting power relativities ostensibly favouring China (Bisley2008, Wainwright 2016). There remain
considerable grounds for optimism about Chinas successful accommodation within the existing order in the longer
term, but its growing A2/AD and power projection capabilities threaten to shift power perceptions in the region
in ways that potentially undercut the credibility of American security guarantees and thus contribute to regional
instability. Conversely, more integrated security cooperation among Americas allies would not only strengthen
the deterrence power of the San Francisco system in relation to China, but also potentially enhance the assurance
credibility of the alliance system as a whole. The East Asian littoral includes most of Asias great powers, most of
its conflict flashpoints and most of Australias top trading partners. Concentrating effort first on strengthening
East Asias security architecture is therefore prudent. And fortifying spoke to spoke (Wainwright 2016:3) security
cooperation provides an efficient means of distributing effort more evenly between America and its allies, thus
enhancing the credibility and long-term sustainability of the only coalition collectively strong enough to constrain
the potential threat of Chinese revisionism.
Alongside the urgent imperative of refurbishing the San Francisco alliance system, Australia should also pursue
policies of la carte security bilateralism and minilateralism in the Indian Ocean, with India and Indonesia as


Indo/Pacific hedginga triple-track grand strategy for Australia

The objectives and prospective benefits of la carte bilateralism and minilateralism in the Indian Ocean are
threefold. Most immediately, such initiatives would help build both partner capacity and habits of cooperation
between two states that are of increasingly vital strategic importance to Australia, but with which our previous
history of cooperation is modest at best. Although a range of security challenges recommend themselves as focal
points for increased cooperation, maritime security (especially maritime surveillance) stands out as one area in
particular where Australia could benefit from more systematically engaging New Delhi and Jakarta. Investment
in maritime security initiatives (at both the bilateral and the multilateral levels) is consistent with the imperatives
deriving from Australias increasingly Indo/Pacific strategic geography and could potentially also provide the
near-term practical policy gains necessary to build momentum for more ambitious efforts at security partnership.
A second benefit of increased la carte bilateral and minilateral security cooperation in the Indian Ocean lies in
its capacity to test the potential for Australia to develop more comprehensive security partnerships with India
and Indonesia over time and to identify the major impediments to such an enterprise through trial and error.
Establishing comprehensive security partnerships with India and Indonesia would significantly expand Australias
capacity to proactively shape the regional order. Nevertheless, in the absence of a major exogenous shock, such
partnerships would need to be built incrementally over time and may prove in the last instance too difficult
to consolidate enough to be useful in contributing to regional stability. Theres no guarantee that successful
partnerships in one issue area (such as Australia and Indonesias counterterrorism partnership following the 2002
Bali bombings) will spill over into a larger entente (Phillips & Hiariej 2016:434). Regardless, while increased la carte
security cooperation may not prove sufficient to build the more comprehensive partnerships some seek from India
and Indonesia, it is likely to prove a necessary first step in working towards such an outcome.
The third advantage of pursuing bottom up (Tow & Taylor 2010: 112) regionalism in the Indian Ocean through la
carte initiatives with India and Indonesia is that it could modestly hasten India and Indonesias emergence as net
security providers actively invested in upholding regional strategic stability. For Australia to help secure and sustain
a regional order thats peaceful, inclusive and resilient, both India and Indonesia must be included in the longer
term as key stakeholders and net security providers within that order. India is the worlds largest democracy and
worlds ninth largest economy, and will soon also be the worlds most populous state. Indonesia, meanwhile, is the
Muslim worlds most populous state and the worlds third largest democracy. It also remains maritime Southeast
Asias pivotal state and the hinge linking the Indian Ocean and Pacific theatres. If we make the plausible assumption
that maritime Asias connectivity revolution is set to continue, it will be necessary to forge an order that successfully
integrates and accommodates both of these states. Attempting to enlist India and Indonesia as fully-fledged allies
in an anti-China coalition is a fools errand: even if successful, it would merely cement an exclusionary and polarised
order, which Chinas power and dissatisfaction would in any case render unsustainable. Nevertheless, integrating
India and Indonesia more fully as regional security providers is both desirable and necessary. A la carte bilateral and
minilateral initiatives provide a further means of promoting this integration, potentially expanding the coalition of
states interested and actively engaged in preserving an open and peaceful Asian order.
The key differences between the AsiaPacific and the Indian Ocean regions demand an ambidextrous approach that
acknowledges these differences, and reflects them in an Indo/Pacific strategy grounded in customised policies of
alliance refurbishment and la carte bilateral and minilateral security cooperation initiatives.
This imperative of an ambidextrous approach notwithstanding, Indo/Pacific hedging need not and should not come
at the expense of Australias longstanding commitment to open multilateralism. Australia should remain steadfastly
dedicated to the inclusive and expansive big picture conception of Asia that has traditionally informed its regional
order-building strategy. Accordingly, while I reject the outsize ambition of Indo-Pacific maximalism, I do recommend
complementing alliance refurbishment and la carte security cooperation with support for an Indo-Pacific Security
Dialogue, albeit as a supplement rather than a centrepiece of our strategy.
As Indo-Pacific maximalists rightly acknowledge (see, for example, Medcalf 2014), there are compelling reasons for
Australia to help sponsor a regional security architecture that brings India, in particular, squarely into an Asia-wide
security system. Regardless of whether India aspires to balance China militarily in the longer term, officially




From Hollywood to Bollywood? Recasting Australias Indo/Pacific strategic geography

recognising India as a fully-fledged security player in maritime Asia has the advantage of potentially institutionally
balancing (He 2008) Chinese influence merely by ensuring Indias presence in regional security discussions. This
could in turn work as a form of diffuse reassurance for smaller Southeast Asian states, foreclosing their risk of
bandwagoning in the face of Chinese threats or inducements.

Indo-Pacific security multilateralismperhaps cohering around the

existing nucleus of the East Asia Summitwould provide a useful
vehicle for enmeshing the regions great powers into a common
security framework.
More generally, Indo-Pacific security multilateralismperhaps cohering around the existing nucleus of the East
Asia Summit (EAS)would provide a useful vehicle for enmeshing the regions great powers into a common security
framework. Indeed, the EAS offers a range of advantages as a platform out of which an Indo-Pacific Security
Dialogue might develop. These include the fact that it is an established structure, which already includes all the key
Indo-Pacific players as participants (Cook and Bisley 2016:6). Additionally, at the last EAS meeting in Kuala Lumpur in
November 2015, delegates explicitly stated a desire to consider maritime cooperation as a priority future focus (East
Asia Summit 2015). This commitment clearly gels with the maritime security concerns that Indo-Pacific advocates
have rightly foregrounded, and that should in any case be a focus for Australia in its developing bilateral and
minilateral security partnerships. Finally, the EAS has the additional advantage of possessing the same membership
as the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus (ADMM+). This correspondence is advantageous. For in the long term
it would help participants to more easily operationalise any specific defence cooperation proposals that might
emerge from an Indo-Pacific framework developed out of the existing EAS structure.
I must nevertheless stress that the point of such a framework wouldnt be to contrive some artificial consensus,
along the lines of a fully-fledged great-power concert. Rather, a dedicated Indo-Pacific Security Dialogue would
provide in the first instance an inclusive platform for regional actors to debate issues of common concern (Cook and
Bisley 2016:6). In the longer term, such an institution could potentially broaden its mandate along lines comparable
to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, providing for Indo-Pacific powers a common
institutional trellis around which collective responses to shared non-traditional security challenges might cohere.
The reality of strategic contestation in Asia today constrains (but doesnt preclude) Australias capacity to promote
an Indo-Pacific Security Dialogue. Our failed attempt to sponsor an AsiaPacific security community moreover
counsels the need to avoid diplomatic overreach. We lack the capacity and credibility to unilaterally propose and
promote a new grand design for Asian security architecture. Consequently, wed need to pursue any long-term
attempt to institutionalise an expansive Indo-Pacific security architecture in conjunction with other regional actors.
In light of these caveats, for now, our efforts must focus first on refurbishing alliances in East Asia to deter the threat
of armed revisionism, and second on engaging priority Indian Ocean partners to enlarge the number of net security
providers across Asia, particularly in the maritime domain. An Indo/Pacific hedging strategywhich recognises the
diversity of the AsiaPacific and Indian Ocean theatres and the need for customised approaches to eachprovides
us with the clarity necessary to confront these challenges with the limited resources at our disposal. At the same
time, it also remains open to the long-term possibility and desirability of an Indo-Pacific Security Dialogue, even
while recognising it as being aspirational for the foreseeable future. In so doing, it remains consistent with Australias
commitment to an expansive and inclusive vision of Asia, which must rightly remain central to our regional
diplomacy in the Asian Century.



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From Hollywood to Bollywood?

Recasting Australias Indo/Pacific strategic geography

Australias strategic geography is being revolutionised. China and Indias rising
maritime power, coupled with a Eurasia-wide connectivity revolution, is drawing
together two formerly disparate theatres: the AsiaPacific and the Indian Ocean region.
Moreover, Indo-Pacific language now pervades official characterisations of Australias
strategic geography. But is the Indo-Pacific a reliable characterisation of Australias
neighbourhood? What might a genuinely Indo-Pacific strategy of regional order-building
look like? And what are the alternatives to an Indo-Pacific grand strategy for Australia?
This report argues against the Indo-Pacific idea and presents the case for a more
regionally differentiated Indo/Pacific alternative. The Indo-Pacific idea is a
crucial intervention in Australian foreign and defence policy debates and captures
fundamental megatrends now reshaping our region. Nevertheless, it also overstates
the magnitude, speed and scope of integration between the AsiaPacific and the
Indian Ocean region and offers a bold but ultimately flawed regional template for
Australian foreign and defence policymakers. Specifically, the hyphen at the heart of the
Indo-Pacific aggregates two distinct regional security orders that have differed widely
in their historical evolution and that today present different challenges and regional
order-building opportunities for Australia.
By contrast, an Indo/Pacific strategic geography explicitly differentiates the Asia
Pacific from the Indian Ocean region and calibrates Australias strategies for regional
engagement accordingly.

ISBN 978-1-925229-24-0

9 781925 229240